The opening credits of Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return appear on debris flung at us from a twister. The objects on which we see the names are reflective of the person’s contribution—the name of Hugh Dancy, for instance, who provides the voice of “Marshal Mallow,” is emblazoned on a bag of marshmallows.
That’s sort of clever. And there are a couple of amusing passages in this computer-animated musical adventure. Probably the best is the episode set in the Dainty China Country, beyond the “Great Wall of China”—a fortification made up of huge teacups, saucers, etc, protecting a population of animate China figurines and ruled over by the China Princess, voiced by Megan Hilty.
She’s a bit of a diva, but not a bad sort, and Marshal Mallow, a courtly military type, falls for her. His body being made entirely of marshmallows, he’s a good match for such a fragile lady.
The movie also offers a reasonably lively climactic battle, with Dorothy (Lea Michele) and Toto, re-summoned from Kansas, and their allies, against The Jester, the younger brother of the Wicked Witch of the West, who's cursed to wear the coxcomb forever. Martin Short lends this villain his voice, and the rest of the cast is equally impressive: Dan Aykroyd as the Scarecrow, James Belushi as the no-longer-cowardly Lion, Kelsey Grammer as the The Tin Man and Bernadette Peters as Glinda, with Oliver Platt, Brian Blessed and even Patrick Stewart in secondary roles.
Sadly all these great voices are given little to say, or sing, that’s witty or engaging. The aforementioned whimsical ideas notwithstanding, the film, adapted from a book by Roger Stanton Baum (L. Frank’s great-grandson) is mostly a flat, sluggish dud, weighed down with obligatory elements and forgettable songs—some of them co-written by Bryan Adams.
The movie has visual downsides, too. The fantasy characters aren’t bad, but the human characters represent CGI at its most charmless and creepy—the notorious “Uncanny Valley effect” at its worst. Dorothy, Auntie Em, Uncle Henry and their Kansan neighbors come across like CPR training dummies.
Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is a painful example of the unreliability of the “dream team” approach to moviemaking: of how a well-funded, well-intentioned project stuffed with big name talent can stubbornly refuse to come to life. If it’s the only option to take your kids to at a discount theatre on a really boring afternoon, maybe you might consider it. Maybe. But you may find it has the same effect on you as the poppies outside the Emerald City.
RIP to Al Feldstein, editor of MAD Magazine in its greatest vintages and thus arguably the architect of a generation of insufferable adolescent smartasses, passed on at 88.